Month: January 2016

Fresh Zombie Take: The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Fresh Zombie Take: The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Cover_The_Girl_with_All_the_Gifts

I have a confession to make. I’m done with zombie stories. Every plot has been written multiple times. Every angle has been explored. There is simply nothing new to be told. Or so I thought before reading The Girl with All the Gifts.

To say too much about the plot would be to deprive unsuspecting readers some spectacular plot twists. But, in the interest of not being entirely unhelpful, here goes. Six year old Melanie is a genius. She reads the classics, performs Calculus, and quotes Greek literature. Her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau, adores Melanie above the other students in a very unique class. For each day, Sergeant and other hardened soldiers roll Melanie and her classmates into class strapped helplessly into wheel chairs. No one ever touches the children, or gets too close to their teeth, or releases their bonds in the presence of adults. Why? Melanie doesn’t know at first, but gradually learns of the undead “hungries” that have killed the world outside of the school. That world seems so far away … until it crashes in on the school and destroys it. What follows is a frenetic journey of self-discovery and survival as Melanie, Miss Justineau, and Sergeant attempt to survive a brutal outside world. For the truth about Melanie and the danger she poses to those she loves most becomes the girl’s most difficult lesson yet.

This novel has everything – everything – I look for in a story. Compelling characters you cannot simply classify as good or bad who soldier on with hope despite a hopeless situation. Twists and turns galore – some you see coming and some you don’t. And best of all, an ending that you don’t see coming, but when it does, you know it is perfect.

Five enthusiastic stars for this novel … and I would give it six if I could. Just read it, okay. You can thank me later.

Better Than the Movie: The Hunger Games

Better Than the Movie: The Hunger Games

Cover_The_Hunger_Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Imagine a future America where a central government rules all with an iron fist, fed by the tribute of 12 subjugated colonies. Those in the capital city live lives of ease, abundance and entertainment at the expense of the colonists, who struggle against nature every day to survive. This is the life of the teenage Katniss, a girl who risks punishment for excursions beyond the electric fence to find food for her widowed mother and young sister.

Her slow trudge toward a bleak future is suddenly interrupted when her sister’s name is drawn to compete in the annual Hunger Games, and Katniss volunteers in her sibling’s place. The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. Twenty-four teens from the 12 colonies are chosen to fight to the death in an arena of diabolical design, their every word and action televised to a riveted nation. Because the colony of the winning contestant receives extra food allotments for an entire year, the full attention of the colonies focuses on the outcome.

 

The story follows Katniss through her preparation and competition. Although she wishes only to survive, Katniss’ ingenuity, selflessness, and defiance soon earn the admiration of viewers across the nation. She slowly becomes that which the Capital fears the most: a symbol of rebellious hope to the oppressed colonies. Even if she survives the games, she may not survive the wrath of the central government.

 

Much has been said about the Hunger Games trilogy – that it is a knock-off of previous works, that it is simplistic in its view of humanity, that it is little more than a moral parable. The critics, however, have missed the bigger picture. Ms. Collins has painted a portrait of an America not far removed from our own – one where the oppression of race has been replaced by the oppression of class, and where the divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ has grown deep. She achieves what every author should – to have the reader care deeply for the main character, and to have the reader think deeply about the circumstances and actions of that character. This novel is a tremendous mixture of action and relationships, and should not be missed by any teen reader.

The Best Post-Apocalyptic Short Story. Ever.

The Best Post-Apocalyptic Short Story. Ever.

A_Pail_of_Air

A Pail of Air by Fritz Leiber. With a claim like that, it better be incredibly good. It is. Written in 1951, the story begins with a startling premise: Earth has been ripped away from the sun by a ‘dark star’, the atmosphere lies in frozen layers on the ground, and everyone is dead. Well, not quite everyone. The tale’s narrator is a young boy who survives with his small family in a hand-built refuge, valiantly staving off human extinction. The story owes its title to one of the boy’s daily chores: donning a suit, going outside, and retrieving a pail of frozen air. As the fire inside warms the air, it turns to gas and thus sustains the family.

Why is this one the best short story ever? Because, the family’s situation is utterly hopeless, but the characters maintain hope anyway and fight on. It is this quirk of the human spirit that makes every post-apocalyptic story so compelling; it is this quirk that inspires me. Stories like this one initially drew me to the genre and keep me coming back.

You can read the story for free at the following link posted by the original publisher.

A Pail of Air by Fritz Leiber

The page begins with a short introduction, so just skip to the first line “Pa had sent me out to get an extra pail of air.” Yep – still gives me chills. No pun intended.

My Take: The Martian by Andy Weir

My Take: The Martian by Andy Weir

Cover_The_Martian

My reading of The Martian was one long-running reaction of, “How did Andy Weir research this much material?” The answer in a moment. The reason for the question is this: the story follows the desperate struggle of astronaut Mark Watney to survive alone on Mars, and the main character applies countless implementations of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to ensure survival. Sounds boring, right? Wrong! The story moves so swiftly from one edge-of-death experience to the next that I found myself rooting for principles of science and Watney’s brain to pull him out of the fire again and again. And despite the grim circumstances, the story is told with an abundance of gallows humor, both from Watney’s perspective and the perspective of those on Earth trying to rescue him.

 

So what about the question? How did the author research this much material? Easy. His entire life has been devoted to a fascination with science, space, and planning a Mars expedition. In other words, Mr. Weir has prepared for decades to write this novel. The result is a miracle that makes Robinson Crusoe and Hatchet look like child’s play. This novel is destined to be a classic! [Addendum: The film did a respectable job of capturing the tone and humor of the novel]